When an England call-up was first even mentioned, I was like: “oh whatever, it’s just paper talk. Not many Championship players play for England.” I didn’t really think about it and then, I’ve forgotten who we were playing, but Dave Jones said ‘one of the England representatives are coming to the game today, so you better perform!’ I was doing well, I was scoring goals and then Dave started saying I should be called up. Then I got named in the preliminary squad.
I remember we were playing Scunthorpe away and there was a boxing match in Manchester, I think it was David Haye, and the whole squad organised to go after the Scunthorpe game. I remember thinking it was the last game that I’m going to have to play now before the squad gets announced. Then Dave comes in and said that Fabio Capello’s assistant was in the stadium.
I was nervous, but I scored early on in the game and it was the luckiest goal ever. Someone went down the right and put the cross in and it just kind of hit me and went in. So I was like ‘this is a good start, maybe it’s meant to be?’ I think I scored another one as well, then we went to the boxing and I never heard anything, so I thought maybe I wasn’t in the squad.
Then all of a sudden, I got a text message that said I was in the squad and to meet at the Grand Hotel in Watford the next day. I stood up and shouted “YESSS!” Everyone looked round at me, as if to say ‘What? Nothing’s even happened in the boxing yet!’ I thought I would get a phone call and someone would speak to me. I didn’t even know they had my mobile telephone number. I just got a text with the details and I got a taxi back to London from Manchester. I got my stuff ready and met up with the team the next day.
Credit to my team mates because I couldn’t have played that well that season without them. I came a long way, from falling out with Mick McCarthy at Wolves and him not fancying me because he played a certain way and it just didn’t suit me. Long balls in the channels, all that kind of stuff, it didn’t suit me. Then going to Cardiff, it was just the right kind of stage, it was a pathway. I reached the top and it was just amazing.
I knew Rio Ferdinand. He was a little bit older than me, but I knew him. I knew some of the guys from going out in town and whatever. Everyone really welcomed me which was really good. I was really, really nervous, to be honest. I’m glad at the time that Rio kind of took me under his wing. Even Steven Gerrard as well, he was really good. He was captain and he really helped me with the rules and how Fabio Capello likes things.
I remember the first meeting, we came down for dinner and I came down in flip flops and he just looked at me in a way that was like ‘no, no, no, you better get upstairs and put some trainers on,’ so I had to leg it upstairs really quickly. I trained for the week and then we had the game. It was just a bit of a blur. I couldn’t believe I was there to be honest. It was just amazing to be a part of an England squad.
I know I only played once, but I was a bit unfortunate really because Stuart Pearce came and watched me train a few times, but I got injured when I came back. He asked me if I would be available for two games later that year, he came to see if my fitness was there and I wasn’t training. Had I been fit, there might have been an opportunity there and I could’ve played a few more games, but it wasn’t to be. I’m still delighted though. I got to achieve my schoolboy dream, which was to play for my country.
To be honest, I didn’t even expect to play because there were other people there, like Peter Crouch was there. It wasn’t just a friendly against Moldova or something like that, it was against France, which is always a tasty game. It’s never a friendly, it’s always competitive and I really didn’t think I was going to get on. I was really just happy to be there.
I was happy to be part of the squad, you know; warming up, getting involved, seeing what it’s all like. Seeing some of the best players in the country and then Fabio Capello, he turned around to me and he said: ‘right, get warmed up, you’re coming on’ and I was like ‘Jesus Christ!’ Eventhough it was cold, my hands were sweating. I was like; ‘this is it, you’re going to be playing.’ It was a great feeling for myself and my parents. My mum was crying and my son was there, too. It was amazing, it really was.